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Works by Hemingway, Woolf, Cather, and Conan Doyle Are Now in the Public Domain

Good news! On January 1, all books first published in 1927 entered the public domain in the United States. That means authors and other creators can now incorporate any book published before 1928 into their own work — at least for U.S. distribution — without the need to get permission.

It’s an impressive crop now available to authors for their own creative use, including Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s final two Sherlock Holmes stories,  as well as titles by Willa Cather, E.M. Forster, Franz Kafka, and Edith Wharton.

Take note, though: These same books may still be under copyright elsewhere in the world. So if you want to incorporate them in a new work to be published overseas, you’ll need to check the copyright in the relevant country. Copyright terms for older works in the U.K., for instance, are generally longer, so books from 1927 likely aren’t yet in the public domain there.

Here’s another wrinkle: If a book was published in the U.S. between 1928 and 1964, but a copyright renewal was not filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, it’s in the public domain as well. It’s easy to check the Copyright Office’s records to see if a copyright was renewed — and many weren’t.

This is exactly what copyright law should do: Protect the rights of authors to profit from their work, while ensuring that future creators are free to build upon and reinterpret the literature of the past.